Dubrovnik: King's Landing
For our next Euro summer destination, we chose to return to Dubrovnik, Croatia. We first visited for just a day while on a sailing trip five years ago, and it has always been a goal to go back to the sparkling sapphire waters and fortified Old Town along the Adriatic coast. During our first trip, Dave and Erin's brother Mason accomplished a personal record 50 foot cliff jump, and it was Dave's goal for the trip to set a new PR.
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Dubrovnik is a city that has is origins in ancient Greek times, but the city became a major nautical and diplomatic power in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was during this period that the famous city walls were built to protect the vulnerable coastal town. The walls, dotted with turrets and towers that look down on the sea, run almost 2 kilometers around the city and are visited by thousands of tourists a day. In more recent times, Dubrovnik was besieged and shelled by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers in the 1900s after the break up of Yugoslavia, and the fortifications suffered significant damage. After the mid-90s and major rebuilding, the city became one of the most popular spots in Europe, due to a combination of its intact historical center and natural wonders.
Although Dubrovnik has been a famous summer sea destination in Europe for nearly 15 years, the recent popularity of Game of Thrones, which is filmed in town, has caused a major tourist boom. Giant cruise ships hover in the port outside the city, and during the day guests of the monoliths clog the narrow city streets. For this reason, we spent most of our days outside the city, swimming, boating, kayaking and generally enjoying the still-pristine nature along the Dalmatian coast.
On most of our trips, we jump from place to place to see as much as possible. This time, we decided to rent an apartment in the town center for the entire 5-day trip to live as locals. It ended up being a great decision, because Dubrovnik at night, free of cruise ship day-trippers, is magical. Each night, after a day of adventures on the sea, we joyfully wandered the shiny, smooth stone walkways, stairs and alleys amidst the old stone buildings.
We arrived in Dubrovnik after a direct flight from Frankfurt and were dropped at one of the two main gates that allow access into the car-free old town. We grabbed our bags and walked across a drawbridge into town. We sat down for delicious vegan food at Nishta and then headed to the famous Buza bar, which means "hole in the wall" and is accessed through a literal hole in the city walls. Upon climbing through the hole, visitors descend a staircase that clings to the rocky cliffs, which are dotted with a few umbrellas, tables and a small bar. Continuing past the bar are giant rocks leading down to the sea. Each day, visitors and locals hang out on the rocks, sip drinks, take in the sea and hang out until sunset watching the daredevils cliff jump.
On our first visit, we all jumped and swam around the adventurous scene at this dive bar. We laid our towels down on a stone perch, and Dave bee-lined it for a warm up 30 foot jump and then quickly after climbed through the crowds lining the rocks to throw a giant jump off the 50 footer he'd conquered years before. With the pressure off, we hung out, chatted with other visitors (a few of whom were from Cleveland) and relaxed in the scene.
Then, a foreign tourist decided to climb beyond the 50 foot jump, over the restaurant, nearly along the top of the castle wall to a boulder 75 feet above the sea below. The crowd was buzzing with fear and anticipation, and sure enough, the dude jumped off and nailed it. When the jumper started climbing for round 2, Dave committed and started the climb. He stepped to the edge and jumped, and it felt like he could recite the entire ABC's while in freefall. After a perfect landing, the crowd went wild with a mix of shock and relief. Since Erin was too shocked to film, Dave threw in a second crazy jump for good measure, this time with camera rolling for proof of the feat.
After the massive adrenaline rush, we picked up a bottle of wine and decided to hang out on the cliffs until sunset. As we were enjoying our drink and snacks, a bachelorette party from Mumbai arrived and the girls decided they wanted to take on the 30-footer. The teacher-mode in Dave activated and he spent time helping the girls climb up the rocks to the jump spot. The first few girls jumped without much convincing, but their landings were gauche, as they were not accustomed to adjusting their bodies in air, causing audible butt-smacks on the water. When it came to the last girl to jump, who turned out to be the bride, the entire evening stalled. Dave used every trick in the book, from reverse psychology to pushing, to try to get her to jump, but after a full hour nothing was working. Erin decided a girl's perspective might help, so she climbed up the rock and tried her own hand at convincing the bride to take one last leap before settling down for life. The sun went down over the Adriatic with both of us holding hands with a trembling bride-to-be from India. Although the bride didn't make the jump, we became friends with the group and ended up hanging out the next night.
The following day we woke up early to take in the city walls which surround the old town, marveling at the various angles of the tightly packed orange tile roofs and 500 year old buildings surrounded by the deep blue sea. After spending an hour in the hot sun, we chilled at a local beach and then went for a swim along the city walls before heading back to our place for an afternoon break and a bit of work.
In the evening, we took a cable car to the mountain that rises inland just behind the old town. We hiked about 10 minutes from the busy cable-car viewpoint and found ourselves alone on a wide-open path with unobstructed views of Dubrovnik and the surrounding sea and islands. We enjoyed sundowners for the most wild, colorful sunset either of us had ever seen. The few clouds in the sky turned pink, purple, orange and red, with all of the colors reflecting on the sea in a show that left feeling that we had discovered a truly special place (a feeling that is not quite as strong during Luxembourg sunsets).
We headed back to the cable car after dark and met up with our bachelorette friends. We strolled to a wine (and shot)-fueled dinner of local seafood, risotto and veggies, and had a really great night of making new friends. At the end of the night, we scored an invite to a four-day, 500-guest wedding in Mumbai, filled with feasts, costumes, performances and other-worldly glamour and intrigue. We are seriously considering making the trip.
Sea Kayaking to Lokrum Island
The following day, we fought our headaches from the night before and rented kayaks to visit the nearby island of Lokrum. Most visitors take a ferry to the island or kayak as part of a tour group, but we decided to rebel and give it a go on our own. After a pretty gruelling paddle across the channel, we made it to the island and passed a swimming grotto, old fort, lighthouse and nude beach before coming across a perfect inlet, with cliffs on two sides and a giant cave in towards the island. We paddled our kayak into the cave, which was filled with bright turquoise water and bold purple mossy rocks and pulled our kayak ashore. We spent the next hour swimming in the cove and climbing and jumping in off the cliffs. After a quick snack, we hopped back in the kayak, completed our 7km circumnavigation of the island, and paddled amongst mega-yachts along the city walls on our way back to our origin point.
We grabbed another vegan lunch and reserved some cushy lounge chairs at the beach to take in the sun and rest after our epic paddle. We then headed back to Buza bar from some more adventure. Dave tried to convince a few Brits to do the big jump with him, but they weren't up for the challenge. As we were chilling on the rocks, a local guy climbed past and invited Dave to do the highest jump with him. The local scrambled up the rocks silently and with ease, and then asked Dave to wait while he practiced his (apparently) daily ritual of dropping a small stone off of the cliff and then jumping gracefully, without any in-air adjustments, into the water and then swimming 100 meters off the sea. Dave followed this show of strange grace with another giant mega jump to cheers from the crowd. After, he spoke with the local dude, and it turned out he was a kid Dave and Mason saw throwing epic jumps in the same spot 5 years earlier and he jumps nearly every day in the summer, including from the top of the city wall, which is nearly 100 feet above the Adriatic.
Dolce Vita Gelato
After some R&R, we headed out at night for a rooftop multi-course sushi meal that overlooked the city walls, drawbridge and harbor. We took in the sunset reflecting pink on the water and walls, and then headed back into town to meet up with an old friend from our San Francisco days. She was in town visiting family and recommend that we check out Dolce Vita gelato, which ended up being one of the most delicious eating experiences of our trip. The tiny shop off the main drag served up local and classic flavors in homemade cones - Erin went with bounty (chocolate coconut) and creamy marscapone, and Dave went classic with chocolate. We ended the night with a full and happy walk around town for some people-watching.
The next day, we decided to get out of town a bit by taking a boat trip to the nearby Elafiti Islands for snorkeling, cave exploring and seafaring. Our apartment owner recommended we sign up for a small-group boat excursion, but when we arrived at the meeting point we saw at least 50 sweaty tourists waiting to climb on a miniature wooden ship lined with bench seats. We quickly ditched the trap and made a few calls, and booked a private boat for the afternoon. We spent the morning resting and then headed to the nearby port, where we were greeted by Henry, our 24 year old captain. We climbed on the small speed boat and laid out on the padded front seats as we zipped out of Dubrovnik to the islands.
The Blue Cave
We first stopped at four different caves on islands about 30 minutes away from the city. In the first, the Blue Cave, the boat anchored about 20 meters from a tiny crack in the cliffs and we were told to snorkel through the crack. We jumped in and headed for the small rock opening. Once we swam in, we entered an other-worldly domed rock ceiling. When we swam deep inside and looked back out toward the sea, the water was glowing neon blue, and the electric blue reflected off the rock. It felt like we'd just swam onto another planet or into a film set, so we took our time diving into the blue abyss, taking some video footage and marveling at nature. We hopped back into the boat and headed to the next 3 caves, also known as the "3 sisters". These were a little less spectacular than the blue cave, but our captain let us know that there was a hidden cave inside the middle of the sister caves, so we swam into the back of the purple rocks and saw a very narrow channel heading deeper. Dave swam underneath a boulder and up over the other side, and we continued to shuffle between narrow cave walls until we made it to a secret cave with a tiny circle of skylight at the top. We found it exhilarating to find this secret space, especially as it was so difficult to access.
We spent the rest of the day boating from island to island, hopping off to cool down with a dip or to walk around and explore a tiny island town. We visited one town that was famous for being the home of Christoper Columbus' sailing team, and another that had more churches than inhabitants (32 churches). We headed back to port just in time to take in one last sunset along the coast. We picked up some delicious spicy Korean food at the oddly named Ding Dong, and cooled down with more perfection from Dolce Vita.
The next morning, after watching the UFC fights that took place the night before, we took the cable car back to the top of the mountain and hiked down in the morning sun. After getting sweaty on the hour-long hike, we headed over to Banje beach and rented a cabana for the afternoon. We spent the rest of our day rotating between swims and lounges before heading to Dubrovnik airport for a quick flight to Frankfurt and then a drive back home, arriving late Sunday night. Despite the popularity and inundation of tourists, Dubrovnik has something special, and we had a great time immersed in the sapphire seas and cinematic old town for a few days. Next up, Italy's undiscovered boot-heel, Puglia.
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